A woman’s place in society has always been mapped out for her before birth. Women born in a patriarchal society of the late 1800s must endure the discrimination brought against them in a male-dominated time. In those times a wife and mother were regarded as women’s most important occupations. During the period women normally had less legal rights and career opportunities than men. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, though written by a male using his own life experiences gave feminist the inspiration and acknowledgment they needed. A Doll’s House focuses on the issues present in that time in society such as sexism, individuality, self-awareness, honesty vs deception and the sacrificial role of women.
Henrik Ibsen was a Norwegian play write who devoted his life to inspiring individualism in society. His plays reverse traditional societal roles. Ibsen source of his ideas and characters come from experiences he lived through. However, he constructed fictional characters with similar situations of his own to explore these emotions. Ibsen’s real-life father like Nora’s papa in A Doll’s House, squandered all their wealth he had obtained through marrying his wife. Ibsen was reverted to poverty and his family’s suffering public humiliation. Later in his life his experiences established in his focus of individuality which is characterized in A Doll’s House through the character of Nora.
In the play, Nora and Torvald’s relationship is based on societal sexism. The role of each in the marriage is defined by what the men. The women have lesser status and value than the men this is shown where Torvald says “Nora! The same little featherhead.” Torvald is implying that he thinks Nora is not smart, and her thoughts are just bare without value.
Nora is expected to be his ideal wife, a woman who depends on a man to make important decisions. Torvald constantly makes degrading remarks like ‘that is like a woman!” he believes that Nora should be submissive and act the way he wants her to. In an article on Conner Prairie titled Lives of Women this behavior of sexism towards women as The Cult of Domesticity which states ‘Women’s God-given role was to be a wife, mother and be obedient to your husband.’ This is explaining why men regard women as the lesser sex because they were told that was a woman’s purpose ordained by God.
Torvald reveals just what low regard he has for women, calling Nora ‘a thoughtless woman’. In his mind, women have no life outside of their men. Torvald is unable to see Nora as her own person with her own thoughts, wants, and needs and Nora realizes this. She is now faced with the choice of leaving this sexist marriage and find herself. The Women’s International Center article titled Women’s History in America explains Torvald and Nora’s interaction as women have been viewed as a resourceful source of life. However, ‘they have been considered not only intellectually inferior to men’ for example, but it was also a woman, Pandora, who opened the forbidden box and brought plagues and unhappiness to mankind. So since then, women were described as children, and inferior to men.
The play possesses the struggles that come into place when trying to find individuality in a society that doesn’t uphold that for women. When Krogstad says ‘there is not the least pleasure in working for oneself.’ She is pushing Nora to leave her motherly and wifely duties and reject social norms. Nora must step out of her role in order to her unique personality. Conner Prairie’s Lives of Women article describes the late 1800s where women were pulling against these traditions “Women’s roles were meant to be steady all this uncertainty, but women could not help but see opportunities for themselves in this growth.” Women were starting to feel the urge of being their own individual and were starting to rebel against social norms.
Krogstad and Christine are no longer bounded to their patriarchal bonds of society. Christine and Krogstad represent individuality in the play. Where Krogstad did the same crime as Nora and gained her independence that Nora longs for. By using these characters who have lived outside of society’s expectations, Ibsen is representing Nora’s rebellion towards society. In an article on Conner Prairie where is states “Educating females would destroy the delicacy of the female’s character”. Which means that giving women their own identity and knowledge would destroy the foundation of their gender roles.
The theme of self-awareness is revealed throughout Nora’s journey. At the beginning of the play, Nora lacks self-awareness. Throughout the play, she gains a sense of who she is, and is now able to identify her own morals and emotional point of view from those that her husband and father had imposed on her before. When Torvald says ‘poisonous..in the presence of those near and dear to him.’ about Krogstad as, these words now trigger Nora down the path of self-discovery. At that moment she decides, ‘I shall not be able to be so much with them now as I was before.” It was the thought of herself as being unworthy or harmful to her children forces Nora to see the consequences of her actions. The Women’s History in America’s article titled Women’s History in America states “women are the stronger sex that buries their own emotions and needs in order to survive” women acknowledge their self-awareness as them retaliating to men’s oppression and realizing their worth.
Torvald has now cause Nora to doubt herself about being a good person, it is Dr. Rank acknowledgment his of self-awareness and speaking this truth and facing his death that leads Nora to see herself for who she is. When Torvald exposes himself as a hypocrite that cares about what people will think of his character and question his manhood, is when Nora chooses not to let him decide things for her anymore and gain her own sense of self.
Through the characters actions, Ibsen emphasizes the importance of honesty and deception. From the start, Nora lies and hides from the truth, the more confused she becomes about herself through a small deception. The lies told to Torvald and the deeper lies of Nora’s self-deception Nora finds herself hiding more of the truth away from those around her.
When Christine tells Krogstad to leave the letter for Torvald to read it, now Nora has come face to face with the truth. The truth that would turn her husband to question her character as a woman The Women’s History in America’s article titled Women’s History in America states that ‘The Bible has painted to men what a woman should be like now women are being disregarded for who they are.” Men who believe in the bible have drafted their own thoughts of what their wives should be and when they act differently, they are going against the biblical truth that paints them as honest and righteous.
Ibsen depicts the sacrificial role of women of all economic status in society. Nora’s claim that though men refuse to sacrifice their integrity, “hundreds of thousands of women have.” Even though Nora has a better financial advantage over the other female characters, she lives a hard life filled with deception because society has dictated that Torvald is the dominant one in the marriage. Torvalds rules and patronizes Nora, but Nora must hide her emotions for her own survival. Sacrificing her own happiness for her husband and children sake. Women could not do business or have to control their own money, they needed the permission of the men. In Conner Prairie’s article “Women were born natural caregivers…. with survival skills….. that neglect their own needs even their health.” Women for generations have been doing whatever is necessary for their existence and their families, even if it means putting themselves last. Women were given a central role
In concluding A Doll’s House Ibsen Through his life experiences, he writes a play reflecting his life using fictional characters. His writing is a form of feminism activism for women in the late 1800s. He uses Nora and Torvald relationship to expose the sexism that is in the story as Torvald deems himself as the superior sex. He brings light to women finding self-awareness in and now trying to separate themselves from their wifely and motherly duties and finding something of their own, through this their sense of individuality is form in a society that tells them to act a certain way despite who they really are. The women in this play also must give up their own needs in order to maintain a stable life for themselves and their families. While also contradicting their persona to fight back against their male oppressors.
- “Women’s History in America.” WIC, www.wic.org/misc/history.htm.
- “Lives of Women.” Conner Prairie. www.connerprairie.org/education-research/indiana-history-1860-1900/lives-of-women
- “Henrik Ibsen.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 15 Apr. 2018, nwww.biography.com/writer/henrik-ibsen.
- “A Doll’s House.” by Henrik Ibsen, www.gutenberg.org/files/2542/2542-h/2542-h.htm.